My question is - based on the information we have at present - are either of these the most likely explanation, or is it more likely this is referring to a different flood event to these two?
Observations on the Genesis flood
It was not a historical event in the technical sense that we have no surviving written contemporary accounts. However, it was recent enough prehistory that it could be located in a particular location in the Genesis genealogies. There are also a number of details that suggest a robust oral history from the time of the event until Genesis (or the sources for Genesis) were recorded. It's roughly the same sort of story as the sack of Troy—not historical, but with a strong cultural tradition.
Indications from the geographic descriptions roughly center on the Levant region:
In Genesis 2, we read that Eden was located at the headwaters of the Tigris and the Euphrates. (The identity of the other two rivers named are disputed.) Genesis 10 lists Noah's sons and their descendants, who are said to have founded all the nations on Earth. The nations mentioned are associated with the region from Egypt to Greece around the eastern shore of the Mediterranean.
The event was clearly exceptional. This could not be a story that arose from the regular (and devastating) flooding of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Nor could it be associated with the even more regular (and beneficial) flooding of the Nile. Rather the level of destruction Genesis describes is associated with something worse than a 100-year flood. That we find similar stories in Sumerian and Babylonian myths suggest that the flood was widely noted and recalled.
The Zanclean flood
The immediate problem with the Zanclean flood event (which is the theoretical filling of the Mediterranean from the Atlantic Ocean via the Strait of Gibraltar) is that it would have occurred 5.33 million years ago. While that's well outside of the reach of our historical record, it also is well outside of the possibility of a continuous oral tradition. Despite some intriguing similarities to observations 2 and 3 above, there just is no way to reconcile this event to #1.
The Black Sea deluge
Having a possible date circa 5600 BC, the Black Sea deluge theory would better fit the timeframe Genesis implies. It also fits the magnitude of devastation if the catastrophic hypothesis is correct. (The gradual and oscillating models would not fit the intensity required by the Genesis account.) However, the location of the flood would be near the edge of the Levant region. Perhaps it is reflected in Greco-Roman flood myths, but given that it would have occurred 4,400 years before the Trojan War that seems a stretch. In any case, there are few similarities between the Biblical flood account and the Greek accounts.
Woolley's clay deposits
Perhaps the most likely candidates for archaeological evidence for the Genesis flood are the various deposits of clay found in dig sites in what is now southern Iraq. These date from c. 3100 to 2400 BCE, which well satisfy the first requirement and also the second. However, given there were at least 4 separate flood deposits within 600 years, the description of a single, all-destructive flood does not fit. These seem like very powerful, very localized 100-year floods, rather than a single, wide-scale 1000-year+ flood.
The Flood Myth genre
In the end, I think the most probable interpretation is that during the time of the Sumerian flooding a literary genre centered on explaining the destruction of cities was developed. According to Genesis, Abram moved from Ur (a Sumerian city) to Hebron (a Canaanite city) and lived a few hundred years after the Sumerian flood events. Around that time, a number of flood accounts were recorded in Mesopotamia. The most complete version blamed the flood on gods who were tired of the noise that humans made. If the composer of Genesis wished to incorporate a flood narrative, he would have discovered difficulties reconciling that motivation with the motivation of a monotheistic, creator God. In the theology of Genesis, a number of details would need to be reworked in order to make the story work in the context of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph.
If we try to interpret the Genesis flood under the rules of modern historical records, we are reading into the account our own biases and assumptions. Ancient historians did not see events as containing meaning in themselves as we often do. Rather, they saw events as reflections or echoes of deeper truths. The Sumerian flood accounts explain those destructive events as the result of fickle and selfish deities. The Genesis account reworks that material to show the flood was a result of fickle and selfish humans. It would not upset early readers to learn that The Flood was actually an amalgamation of several extremely destructive flood events across a numbers of cities in the Mesopotamian flood plane.
God said He would destroy all flesh. That is why we find millions and millions of dead things buried in sedimentary rock all over the world. One factor that is often, very strangely, overlooked, is that fossils almost never form under normal conditions. They are the result of sudden catastrophes.
The problem with evidence for a flood is not the lack of evidence. It is the presuppositions we bring with us, that is, the lens through which we look at the world. If your presupposition is one based upon uniformitarianism rather than catastrophism, you aren't going to come to the right conclusions.
One side says sedimentary layers are deposited over millions of years, the other says they were put down, globally, by a flood. From what I have read, the evidence favours the latter. The layers are not disturbed as they would be if any was exposed for a length of time, and experiments with mixed grades of materials (i.e. sand, pebbles, stones, rocks) in large tanks of moving water have found that the water itself separates the different grades of material into different layers.
Michael's point about the Grand Canyon is a good one. For it to have been carved by a river, water would have had to flow uphill. The canyons were not initially caused by "uniformitarian" erosion, but actually carved by huge amounts of water running off sediments as the floodwaters receded. I live in the Blue Mountains near Sydney, Australia, which have similar sheer cliffs, very obviously not the result of a little water over a long time, but a lot of water over a short time.
If all this sounds difficult to believe, it's time to get educated on flood geology. My friend Tas Walker is a mining geologist who has a website dedicated to assessing the evidence without the bias of uniformitarianism, and with a biblical bias instead. Turns out the evidence makes a lot more sense (including the fossil evidence, such as large graveyards of dinosaurs buried in sediment in one hit).
There is more info here:
Believing in the Bible's chronology is a major paradigm shift, but it's neither impossible, not does it require shelving one's brain. I have another friend who designs satellites who is a young earth Creationist. These men are not fools. The fools are those who ridicule them without actually dealing with any of their very sound arguments. We can have total confidence in the Word of God.
Another possibility is detailed in a study entitled Did a Comet Cause the Great Flood? (Carney, 2007), where the researchers gathered not only the account from Noah, but also petroglyphs and oral histories reputed to have drawn and started around the same time as the Noah account in the Bible.
They found massive similarities in what was recorded; from the article:
Almost every culture has a legend about a great flood, and—with a little reading between the lines—many of them mention something like a comet on a collision course with Earth just before the disaster.
The latter being petroglyphs from Native Americans of what appears to be comets, but interpreted by the people at the time as serpents in the sky.
These were alongside finding what appears to be chevrons in southern Madagascar, which are often remnants of past tsunamis.
So the researchers hypothesised that
5,000 years ago, a 3-mile-wide ball of rock and ice swung around the sun and smashed into the ocean off the coast of Madagascar. The ensuing cataclysm sent a series of 600-foot-high tsunamis crashing against the world’s coastlines and injected plumes of superheated water vapor and aerosol particulates into the atmosphere. Within hours, the infusion of heat and moisture blasted its way into jet streams and spawned superhurricanes that pummeled the other side of the planet.
Other evidence that the researchers include is:
Gilgamesh Epic, the hero of Mesopotamia saw a pillar of black smoke on the horizon before the sky went dark for a week. Afterward, a cyclone pummeled the Fertile Crescent and caused a massive flood.
And many oral and petroglyphic histories in South America talk of a great flood.
In India, he notes, a celestial fish described as “bright as a moonbeam,” with a horn on its head, warned of an epic flood that brought on a new age of man.
A Chinese historical record
mentions that the great flood occurred at the end of the reign of Empress Nu Wa.
Which gives a date for this hypothetical reason as being:
May 10, 2807 B.C.
Then of course, there is the possible physical evidence found by
searching satellite images on Google Earth, she saw dozens of chevrons along shorelines and inland in Africa and Asia. The shape and size of these chevrons suggest that they might have been formed by waves emanating from the impact of a comet slamming into the deep ocean off Madagascar. “The chevrons in Madagascar associated with the crater were filled with melted microfossils from the bottom of the ocean."
Further images and information of the chevrons in Madagascar (and other localities, not necessarily linked to this theory) are imaged and detailed by the Holocene Impact Working Group, where they describe the Madagascan chevrons as being at
the altitude of 205 m above present sea level with in-land penetration up to 45 km.
However, as with many hypotheses, this is not completely proven as the crater itself (if this theory is true) is yet to be identified. But this is presented as another possibility that the Great Flood of Noah's time may have been one part of a global catastrophe.
One option rarely considered and never mentioned here is the idea that the flood could have been a tsunami.
In the vein of the idea that a local flood was the cause of the flood narrative and statements that the "whole earth" was flooded or that the flood lasted for 40 days are embellishments or exaggerations, it is equally possible that the flood narratives were caused by a tsunami.
This would certainly fit the account in Genesis 7:
And after the seven days the floodwaters came on the earth. In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, on the seventeenth day of the second month—on that day all the springs of the great deep burst forth...
For forty days the flood kept coming on the earth, and as the waters increased they lifted the ark high above the earth. 18 The waters rose and increased greatly on the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. They rose greatly on the earth, and all the high mountains under the entire heavens were covered. The waters rose and covered the mountains to a depth of more than fifteen cubits. Every living thing that moved on land perished—birds, livestock, wild animals, all the creatures that swarm over the earth, and all mankind. Everything on dry land that had the breath of life in its nostrils died. Every living thing on the face of the earth was wiped out; people and animals and the creatures that move along the ground and the birds were wiped from the earth.